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Less is More 2

As one of my first few works in a long hiatus, I will like to take some time to analysis and observe the relations in data and information displayed to a user, and the difficulty curve of a game.

Welcome readers, as I present to you my first design document and theory.

I intend this to be a document, that will serve a few purposes for the sake of games design:

  • Introducing a manner of looking at and analyzing games in the market, new and old
  • Take said analysis and prove a new methodology, here henceforth known as a theory, to games design.
  • Suggesting possible additions or innovations to gameplay mechanics
  • Compiling it into a reference guide, and hopefully may it benefit designers all around

Now, before going on, I may not be aware, if anyone else might have the same idea, or had already written a document about the same or similar theory. But if there is, please share with me, as I could be ignorant of going-ons of the industry at times. At the same time, there is no compromise in our theories, and hopefully, there’s no need for us to be pointing fingers and claiming plagiarism, but more of a cooperation to help each other improve our theories.

 

 

With that said, I wish to introduce my theory of “Less is more”, where less assets in a game could result in a proportional increase in difficulty and gameplay.

This theory consist of the matter of level designing, along with story design and perhaps character design as well. In the games we see in the majority of the market, we could see a lot of games with difficult levels. Games such as the Modern Warfare series, Gears of War 3 and the newly-released Skyrim.

In majority of the games, they follow a set of design, I coin the term as  “More is more”.

How does “More is more” (MiM) works? It’s really simple; in Modern Warfare, as you progress through the levels, the difficulty of the game is defined as “more” enemies, with “more” arsenal of weapons, in a “bigger” space, results in “more” difficulty of the levels. (Attention to the terms I use are not technically correct, but should be used as a form of analogy or metaphor)

Using this mindset, we could see that, indeed, majority of the game is defined by this design.

Gears of War: Same as Modern Warfare.

Monster Hunter series: More monsters to hunt and different maps to explore as the game progresses, different maps, and also the definition of Normal ranking and Hi Ranking quests.

GTA IV: More maps, more weapons, more enemies, more missions.

Skyrim: More levels, more skills, more perks, more enemies as you level up, more and better rewards from quests.

Mortal Kombat: More enemies per stage, more moves to master, more combos to master, and of course Shao Khan had a lot more health than the player.

Now, seeing  a few of the examples, we could easily define, that “More is more” is very prevalent in the gaming industry. But it’s for a good reason. “More is more” rewards the player intensively, making players wanting to play it even more. And it allows for expansions of designs, introducing new assets, graphics, gameplay and such to the company to work on, allowing feeding back to more players once more.

An example will be World of Warcraft, the top MMORPG that anyone can recognize.

In WoW, players work towards a “More is more” design (Shortened as MiM for convenience sake).

A player start off with level 1, and works towards more levels. As they work towards it, they are constantly given more boons as they go. Things such as skill perks, quests, raids and items all pave the way towards MiM. And, if a player were to hit the max level, MiM doesn’t end there. Instead, they work towards, getting more gear, more stats boost, better weapons. AND, if a player were to hit that as well, controlling a max character with the best possible gear for his class, there’s no end! Players could try more classes, more professions, more raids for different factions.

It doesn’t even end there, assuming someone, somewhere, had all the best stuff, they introduce more expansions, which resets the whole MiM cycle once more.

And so, we can see, how MiM could easily improve a game, making it better and bigger.

But, MiM is deadly, especially to the indie game developer, which can be summarized in one word: time.

To create a full-scale triple A game, the amount of content is immense, things such as art, animations, graphics, music, design, balancing, programming, QA, bug fixes and so on are the major bulk we can recognize and relate to.

But to an indie, that is simply an insane amount of stuff, and we simply can’t compete with a team of say, six. What can we do to improve our situation, and still make a good game?

And that’s where my theory comes in.

 Less is More.

Defined as “The less assets a game has, the amount of gameplay could increase as well.”

Let’s look at an example to help understand that.

Assuming we are playing a Role-Playing Game.

You control a human, level 10. He’s armed with a sword, a shield, and a full set of iron armor.

You encounter a goblin, level 9, no weapon or any defense, likely to die in 1 hit.

How tough will this fight be? Probably not much.

Now, with the MiM design, the next encounter will likely be this: You encounter your evil twin. He’s the same level, with the same weapon, shield and armor, and a moustache, cause they define evil twins. (Moustaches do not count as a stat boost or modifier to this NPC, by the way.)

How tough will this encounter be? Maybe tough, considering he’s practically your clone. Then you level up, becoming level 11.

Moving to the next fight, you encounter an orc. He has 2 swords, and is wearing mithril armor, which is better than yours, and is level 13.

How tough will it be? A lot tougher , considering he has better stats and equipment. But most games will likely make it beatable, just tough.

Now, to the next fight, we see the same orc, with mithril weapons now, full plate armor of demonic metal, wearing a shield on his back to boost his defense further and now has the ability to foresee your attacks and dodge them 90% of the time. AND. He’s now riding a Tyrannosaurus  Rex, 30 meters tall, with heat-seeking missiles attached to its back, and it shoots radioactive beams like Godzilla, farts out methane, and if it burps and farts at the same time, it wipes out EVERYTHING in a 3km radius, including you and the orc rider, in a nuclear explosion.

How tough will it be? Well, a LOT, doesn’t seem to sum it up. But that’s how MiM works, minus the T-rex of course.

As a player comes out of a difficult battle after another, the game will have to offer more to the players. But when there’s more for the player, there’s also more work to do, more arts, design and also bugs and programming. For a large scale company like Blizzard, there’s no issue. But for indies, it’s a major one.

 

So how will Less is More, improve our situation?

Imagine the same scenario.

Same soldier, same equipment, same stats, same goblin encounter.

Finish the fight, but your weapon breaks from a miss.

Then you encounter the same goblin.

Will the fight be tougher?

Probably, since you had no weapons, forced to fight bare handed with a shield.

Now, your shield breaks, no more blocking.

Another goblin, and you lose your armor, and you are likely to die in 1 hit due to low health

Now you’re naked, and had to face one last goblin.

Now it’s up to your skill in this fight, no? And will it challenge you as a gamer to fight this fight, and introduce more gameplay and satisfaction?

 

And there’s the theory of Less is More. We start with a character, his shield, his sword, his armor. Then we throw in a fight, with a goblin. As the fight continue, we remove an equipment, and fight another goblin. As we remove each equipment, the game gets proportionally harder, and instead of number crunching, it becomes a game of pure skill against the goblin. Plus, we had only 5 assets to work with, the soldier, his sword, shield, armor and a goblin. And we could squeeze so much out of it!

Now imagine the version with the orc and T-rex.

We have more to handle now.  The soldier at level 10, his weapon, his shield, his armor, the goblin, the evil twin, the evil twin’s sword that you loot, his shield, his armor, the orc, his 2 weapons, his armor, the stronger orc, his 2 new weapons, his new armor, shield on his back and ability to dodge. And the T-Rex, which will be summarized as 1 asset for simplicity sake.

Now, there’s about 18 items in the game, which, is a lot to program and balance. Yet with 5, we could use the same gameplay, and still make a challenging and engaging game.

This goes to show, with a solid mechanic, it doesn’t matter what you put in, it can still be fun, thus “Less is more”.

Some games that prove this point is the notoriously tough Demon’s Souls.

In Demon’s Souls, players start off alive, in a castle with monsters. But if you die, your health is cut by half of its maximum, and you have to battle your way back to where you die to respawn, fighting the same monsters again on the way.

With just this set, we can tell, that there’s an application of less is more. With less health to juggle with, players have to rely on their skill, to face the same monsters and fight their patterns. And since they have less health, they can’t take too much risks.

Also, the game hardly uses up any new assets in this manner, only needing to reduce a number, which in this case is their health.

And it’s good news for indie gamers, as it means, there’s less things to handle, and still get a solid gameplay tested out. This in turn makes space for more design changes, more prototypes and more chances of success than to stick to one idea and try to improve by adding.

And with that, I conclude this theory presentation of Less is More.

Please, share with me, your insights and feedback, as there may be things I missed out on or didn’t notice, as I had only picked up serious gaming for a few years and am still a greenhorn.

Thank you for reading, and may this theory help to develop new and interesting games in the future.

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